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Could campaign finance reform help solve state's budget woes?

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AS I WRITE THIS, all the ballot propositions used to precariously piece together our state budget back in February are going down in flames. And none of us are surprised.

Too complicated for the average voter to understand, two undid the good work of previous propositions and one tinkered with the formula of another. Another enraged partisans on both sides of the aisle, which also doomed its companion measure.

It looks like only Prop.1F has passed, a token measure which keeps electeds from getting pay raises in budget deficit years. This would result in "minor savings," according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

So it's back to the drawing board with a meeting of the "Big Five" legislative leaders again, which last time produced this ill-fated group of propositions and $10 billion in cuts to public schools. Since that time, though, the Republicans have nearly purged their leadership ranks of anyone reasonable. 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2009-10 May Revision General Fund Proposals contain many ideas to plug the now $21.3 billion gap, including another $2.3 billion cut to schools, which will be partially offset by one-time federal stimulus money in certain categories.

While few will likely miss the Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine if it shuts down, many other proposals have already drawn fire, including one to override the normal regulatory processes and allow the first new offshore oil lease in 40 years off state waters near Santa Barbara and another to sell the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

IS CALIFORNIA REALLY ungovernable? The Economist magazine spells out a perfect storm of a two-thirds budget vote requirement and extreme partisanship nurtured by gerrymanded districts, all complicated by term limits and contrary voter-approved ballot initiatives which lock in funding. But it's nothing those of us who are paying attention didn't already know.

What is mentioned less often is that people whose jobs, livelihoods and power depend on special-interest cash are making the decisions for us. And while innate ideology would account for some of the decisions made in Sacramento, the real fear of being unable to raise enough money and support to be elected often drives politicians nationwide to make decisions they would not normally make if campaigns were publicly financed.

One only has to look at the very reasoned budget alternatives coming from the Legislative Analyst's Office to see that good sense and intellect can prevail in a non-partisan, non-threatening, non-special interest atmosphere.

Redistricting and open primaries, already in the pipeline, could help elect reasonable moderate candidates. There is talk of a constitutional convention. But until we have solid campaign finance reform, California's governing dysfunction will continue to be exacerbated by special-interest pressures.

There are two measures out there right now to address this issue and both deserve our support. The California Fair Elections Act will appear on the June 2010 ballot and another measure making its way through Congress, the Fair Elections Now Act, is already enjoying bipartisan support.

They can't come soon enough for California.

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This space is devoted to thoughtful and lively discussion about the events, people and politics which shape Ventura and our state. If you would like to suggest blog topics, email me.

About the author

Marie Lakin, a long-time resident of Ventura, is a community activist and writer/editor.
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